The thing that most attracts us all to travelling, I feel, is the sheer variety of opportunities this wide world of ours offers. Wherever you want to go, whatever your passions, interests and levels of fitness/desire for a suntan, you’ll find the exact trip for you somewhere out there. Providing you’ve got the cashola for it, naturally.
As for myself, I’m a huge history buff, so I’ve been enjoying ticking off a great bucket list of iconic places: the Colosseum, the palace of Versailles, the pyramids of Giza and the like. By the same token, some of us have zero interest in that sort of thing, and would prefer to venture out on an adventure holiday, or simply a luxurious resort with a pool, extensive spa facilities, the works.
I’m not one for pampering myself, and I don’t get nearly as much exercise as I should, so that sort of thing would be totally lost on me. But, as I say, that’s what it’s all about. Different strokes for different folks. There are no wrong answers here.
Having said all of this, when you’re traveling with family, friends or a partner, you’ve got to compromise so that everybody gets what they want out of the trip. There are certain places that tick all of the boxes, and the Israeli/Jordanian Dead Sea is one of them.
Whether you’re in it for a swimming experience like none other, an area steeped in historical significance or just a world-famous attraction to tick off of your list, the fascinating Dead Sea will not disappoint.
Did you know that the Dead Sea left Mark Twain thoroughly unimpressed? Or that it’s getting deader by the year? Or even that it’s the ideal place to go if you’re super, super hungry for dates? Settle in for some unusual Dead Sea Facts.
So, yes. As we know, the waters of the Dead Sea are a popular destination for swimmers around the world. When it comes to a unique swimming experience, you’re really not going to get any more unusual than this. The sensation is something you have to experience once in your life.
The most famous characteristic of this lake on the borders of Israel and Jordan is that, yes, you can effortlessly float in it. This is thanks to its incredible salt content, as salt water is far denser than freshwater. If you want to bob along and read your newspaper, as per a lot of these images, this is the place to do so.
The fact is, though, it’s easy to get caught up on this one trait and lose sight of the big picture. For so many tourists, after all, this is the reason to visit: to get one of those look ma, I’m floating selfies. Also to howl like an excitable gibbon if you’ve got even the slightest scratch on your body (that salt will find it, and it sure stings when it does).
There’s much more to the Dead Sea, though. Did you know, for instance, that it’s the lowest point below sea level anywhere on the planet? According to Twisted Sifter, it’s 1,388ft (423 metres) below.
Now, here’s a revelation to shake your very belief systems to the core: the Dead Sea is not a sea. You’re probably feeling a little short-changed right about now. If you felt the need to hammer on your tour operator’s windows and shriek, “What are you trying to pull here? I paid good darn money for a SEA!”, you’d definitely have right on your side.
There it is, though. The Dead Sea is actually a lake. To go full science major on you, the technical term for such a body of water is a hypersaline lake, or one with a whole heckola of a lot of salt in it.
Oh, yes indeedy-o, friends. You know those people who’d add the slightest amount of hot sauce onto their food because they don’t want it too hot? These people have never experienced hotness. By the same token, if you think Five Guys' fries are too salty, it’s time to experience true salt.
The Dead Sea is saltier than your average Call of Duty lobby. To put things in perspective, it’s around 9 times saltier than the ocean. You remember that feeling as a child, when you accidentally swallowed a little sea water? Imagine that feeling, NINE TIMES. Does that sound uncool? That’s because it is.
So, there it is. I think we’ve firmly established that we’re talking about a whole lot of salt right here. You merely adopted salt. The Dead Sea was born in it, molded by it. It didn’t see freshwater until it was already a sea (which it isn’t).
Snarky Bane memes aside, the Dead Sea is one of the saltiest bodies of water on the planet, but it isn’t the very top of the list. That honour goes to Don Juan Pond in Antarctica, according to From The Grapevine. This hypersaline lake has more than 40% salinity, which prevents it from freezing even in Antarctica’s extreme conditions.
Salt and, you know, lowness are more than enough of a USP already. You’d have to be pretty darn tough to please not to be impressed by that alone. This hypersaline lake has far more interesting traits and secrets to discover besides those, however.
How about the fact that it’s steadily releasing small amounts of asphalt from deep below? Figurines and remains dating back to Neolithic times have been found. The site dates back a very long time indeed, and has been important to many different cultures and peoples, as we’ll see later. This is part of what gives the Dead Sea its allure for people like myself in particular.
With the great historical significance and age of the site in mind, as well as its production of asphalt, it probably won’t surprise the historically-inclined that the Ancient Egyptians wanted a piece of that action.
If there’s one thing we all know about the Ancient Egyptians, it’s that they had a thing about mummifying their deceased (those with a little cash, at any rate). As Jürgen Rullkötter and Arie Nissenbaum write in their ‘Dead sea asphalt in Egyptian mummies: Molecular evidence,’ the waters of this wonderful place have clearly had a role to play in that, according to the testament of ancient historians.
It’s a sad fact of life that we humans don’t tend to take the greatest care of our planet. From smaller infractions like leaving our lights on to globally-damaging acts by big corporations, we’ve all got a role to play and we can all clean our act up.
The Dead Sea is another victim of this situation. Mazada Tours reports that its waters are disappearing super quickly. The water’s surface has almost halved since 1930, and conservation efforts are going to have to rapidly mobilise if we don’t want to lose this remarkable attraction forever. It’s up to us to act.
So, yes. When it comes to people who had sadly passed on in the ancient world, the waters of the Dead Sea had an important role to play. But what of those in the modern world who are still living? Don’t worry, the Dead Sea has more than a little to offer us too.
The super-saline waters of the lake have a range of health benefits, as does the surrounding area itself. With the lake being in such an unusual place on the planet, it’s oxygen-rich and very low on allergens such as pollen. As such, it’s a unique haven for asthmatics and hayfever sufferers.
While there may be all manner of health benefits to the Dead Sea’s waters and surroundings, let’s face facts: that isn’t the homiest of names, is it? It’s not a cutesy name you can slap on it in an attempt to sell it on one of those TV shows, is it?
The adorable sea? I’d be on board with that. The Dead Sea sounds like a place you’d expect to meet Jack Skellington and all the other freakish characters Tim Burton has created over the years.
It’s called this simply because its salinity makes it very, very hostile to life. Very little, except for certain bacteria can survive in these sorts of conditions. The bacteria actually thrive, contrary to common thought.
As we’ve seen, then, the Dead Sea isn’t the most immediately inviting of places. If it’s a choice between that or the Barney the Dinosaur Pink And Adorable Soda Sea, which are you going to choose? With only the name to go on, there’s only one choice really.
After all, the Dead Sea even holds its own water hostage. It’s surrounded by land on three of four sides, which only allows water to flow into the lake (as Facts Legend reports). Once it’s done so, it’s trapped forever, in this beautiful yet hostile environment. Let that be a lesson to you, rivers: watch where you’re flowing.
The Dead Sea, then, is one heckola of a double-edged sword. The environment is both wonderful and dangerous, hazardous and healthy. It’s a place of curious parallels.
Another case in point would be the minerals found in the waters. The water is as high in minerals as it is in salt, which has all kinds of benefits beyond the respiratory. Since ancient times, it’s been revered as a place of healing, and that tradition continues today. As we’ll see later, there’s a huge industry built around the Dead Sea and its restorative properties. You can’t drink it, but the things you can do with it are astonishing.
So, here we are. The healing powers of the waters, the asthma-easing qualities of the air itself, this is truly a magical and unique place. Let’s not forget about that mud too, though.
As Livestrong reports, visitors don’t only go to the Dead Sea to experience the amazingly dense, float-tastic properties of the water. They go to slather their bodies in mud from the lake. It’s rich in vital minerals like calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium. We don’t often associate these sorts of things with playing in mud, but the Dead Sea’s unique messy black deposits are an exception to that rule.
Say what you will about the hilarious look at me, I’m floating selfies and miraculous mud. For some, the Dead Sea is famous for something else entirely. A little archaeological discovery that was made in the area. That’s right, friends, the Dead Sea Scrolls.
These texts were found in the Qumran Caves in the West Bank, by a shepherd named Muhammed edh-Dib, his cousin and another member of the party.
Consisting mostly of ancient Hebrew manuscripts, they were found in the 1940s but almost perfectly preserved. It was a miraculous find, a lucky chance, and the great importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls continues to be discussed today.
So, yes. Today, visitors come to the Dead Sea in their thousands to bathe, immerse themselves in the incredible healing atmosphere and generally experience this phenomenon. As I say, though, it’s been here for a super, super long time, and the tourists and beauty experts of today are not the first to enjoy its benefits.
According to Mazada Tours, it’s the site of the world’s first ‘health spa,’ which was enjoyed by Herod the Great. Not only that, but Cleopatra was a huge fan of its products and had factories for beauty products built alongside the lake! Now those are some discerning rulers.
We’re not talking about those kinds of dates. Still, when you emerge from a Dead Sea mud facial looking thoroughly refreshed and ten years younger, that’s hardly off the table.
Nope, we’re talking about the fruit. It may be tough for any living creatures to thrive around the Dead Sea, but the region is still home to an interesting array of life. Most stunning is the huge number of date palms that call the region home. On your approach to the lake itself, you can hardly miss the trees. There are 618 acres worth of them. I don’t know how many dates are too darn many dates, but we’re probably getting perilously close here.
Here’s another curious thing. The Dead Sea may be sadly shrinking, but the fact remains that it’s still darn big. For now, at any rate. As such, nobody’s fighting for space because there are several different stretches to visit.
The hotels on the south shores of the lake are very close to the artificial pools of the Dead Sea Works company’s making. The southern part of the sea has been battling the effects of a drought, and is in more danger, so the pools were created to ensure water continues to flow there. These are some of the most popular parts of the Dead Sea, although they aren’t really parts of the Dead Sea!
Wherever you go on your travels or vacation, you’ll come across those people who just completely underestimate the sun. You can’t miss them; they’re the people whose heat you can feel radiating from them from across the room, who are so brightly pink that they glow in the dark.
The Dead Sea, being situated as low as it is, has a lot of natural protection from the Sun’s UV rays. As a result, it’s a popular belief that you can’t get sunburnt there, but you certainly can. This is a very hot region of the world, and you’ll have to take the same sun exposure precautions you would anywhere else.
At this point in the rundown, I’ve been waxing lyrical about the Dead Sea’s salt content for some time. What it means for people and animals, its health benefits, why you must certainly do not want it coming into contact with any cuts or grazes on your skin… all of that good stuff. One thing we haven’t tackled yet, though, is why the lake is so salty in the first place.
That’s down to the rainwater. It’s carbon monoxide mixing with rainwater, dissolving the rocks. The result of all of these chemicals mixing together? Salt, and a huge darn lot of it.
So, yes. I think we’ve already covered the fact that the Dead Sea is, as salt goes, pretty goshdarn salty indeed. I think I’ve touched on that just once or twice here.
Even so, however, there’s more to the whole thing than just salt. As List 25 reports, there’s a Biblical prophecy that the waters of the lake will one day turn fresh, and there may actually be some truth to this. In recent years, researchers have discovered small pockets of fresh water forming in the depths of the lake. We’re not yet clear on how or why this has happened.
From all we’ve seen so far here, it’s clear that the Dead Sea is a fascinating tourist attraction. Much more than that, it’s a culturally, historically and even medically significant place. Even if you don’t appreciate all of that and just want to go and float there like everybody else, it’s plain to see why the lake has such a global renown.
Nevertheless, it’s impossible to please everybody. Especially the oft-curmudgeonly writer Mark Twain. Of his trip to the Dead Sea, he wrote, “A silence broods over the scene that is depressing to the spirits. It makes one think of funerals and death.”
It’s long been known that the Dead Sea is an almost completely inhospitable environment. The water itself, that is. As I say, common lake-dwelling lifeforms like fish would have absolutely zero chance in these waters.
I’ve already mentioned that certain simple species, like bacteria, can and do thrive here. The worrying thing is, there are a whole heaping helping more bacteria in the Dead Sea than you might think. As Popular Science reports, more varieties of them are being discovered in the lake.
Studies performed by divers are exceptionally difficult and dangerous, thanks to the salinity, but a 2011 investigation discovered a new variety of bacteria that can survive in the rapidly-changing salt levels found at the depths. A unique trait.
Here’s the irony of the whole thing. The majority of visitors to the Dead Sea aren’t going to be super serious salt scientists, historians or researchers. They’re good ol’ fashioned happy tourists, here to swim. The caveat there is that… you can't really swim here, in the conventional sense.
That is to say, you can, but you have to battle the water itself to do so. The density of it means that it’s constantly battling to force you afloat, stealing your legs right from under you. This is why the classic floating on your back pose is so darn popular.
With the ridiculous ease of floating in the Dead Sea’s waters, there’s another popular misconception that it’s all but impossible to drown here. The water will just push you back up to the surface, won’t it?
Well, yes, but that certainly doesn’t mean you can’t drown. As Gizmodo reports, the lake has been dubbed one of the most dangerous places to swim in Israel. As easy as it is to float on your back, what happens if you get overturned? How do you right yourself?
The more you think about it, the more frightening and bizarre it becomes. It’s just horrible.
Personally, I’ve always thought drowning would be one of the most unpleasant ways to go. It’s so frightening, so protracted, so… all-round awful. True to its name, though, the Dead Sea throws in a couple of extra frightening features too.
As I say, it can happen here, and it’s even more terrible when it does. The incredible high salt levels in the water would interfere with your body’s delicate balance of electrolytes almost instantly, if you inadvertently swallow even a little of it. From the pictures of happy holidaymakers, it looks like it’s all fun and games here, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to take precautions.